Posts tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS MARCH

1968 was a watershed year in American history.  It was in 1968 that North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and its ally, the United States.  It was in 1968 that two U.S. Athletes stared downward at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, hands stretched upward, after winning the bronze and gold medals in the 200-meter sprint, to protest racial inequities.  It was in 1968 that 11 million workers in Paris – more than 22 percent of France’s total population – went on strike, with riots erupting that were so violent, they forced the French president, Charles de Gaulle, to flee the country for a short time.  It was in 1968 that the leading Democratic candidate for president, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.  And it was in 1968, on April 4 – 50 years ago this past week – that the venerable icon of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated while standing outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

To this day, American society is still seeking to come to terms with Dr. King’s death and the horrific racism that sparked it.  Debates over how, how deeply, and whether large swaths of America are racist rage, with no end in sight.  In a decade that was rife with segregation, Dr. King was a powerful and prolific voice for racial reconciliation and human dignity.  This is why 50 years after his death, we still need his wisdom and vision.

Dr. King drew from the rich well of the biblical prophets’ cries for justice to paint a portrait of what could be.  From the dream that he so vividly described on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to the melancholy and pointed letter that he wrote to Christian clergymen while in a Birmingham jail earlier that same year, Dr. King knew that racism was a sin that could – and must – be overcome.  As he explained when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him … I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality …

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant … I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that we shall overcome!

Dr. King’s fight against racism was tireless, and his optimism that racism would one day be overcome by brotherhood was indefatigable, for it was rooted in a hope in a God who creates all men equal.  Dr. King unwaveringly believed that God’s creative design of dignity could conquer even the acridest apartheid of men.

As Christians, we must never forget that racism cuts against the very heart of the gospel itself.  Racism exchanges the love of all for the hate of some and forgets that the very people it hates were loved by Christ so much that He died for them.  To be a racist is to make a mockery out of the very love of God.  In this way, racism is not only an ugly blight societally, but an extremely dangerous gamble spiritually, for God will not be mocked.

Dr. King was hated by many.  But those who hated him, he declared:

I have … decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. 

Jesus decided to love – and He redeemed mankind.  If love has this kind of power, there is simply no better thing to choose.

April 9, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Terror in Manchester

Manchester Town Hall

Terror struck again, this time at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.  What began as a night of fun for fans of the pop music diva ended with 22 dead, many of them children, and 59 others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated himself in the middle of the concert arena.  ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by 22-year-old Salman Abedi who seems to have become radicalized after travelling to Syria.

Once again, the world is left struggling with what can only be described as a senseless and ghastly act of violence.  As I have after other similar attacks, I want to offer a few thoughts on how to process yet another week marred by a terrorist’s malice.  Here are three things to consider.

Sin is real.

In general, we want to believe that people are good.  Sure, there may an occasional evil outlier, but, overall, we like to assume that people are hardwired for goodness.  The steady stream of terrorist attacks, however, indicates differently.  Indeed, the tragedy in Manchester was the most widely reported terrorist attack of last week, but three additional attacks were also launched this past week – one in Egypt, another in the Philippines, and yet another in Indonesia.  Heinous acts of evil are rampant.  Sin is all too real.

It is true that the vast majority of people, thankfully, will never be party to a terrorist plot.  Every one of us, however, will struggle with some kind of sin.  Whether it be the sin of deception, or lust, or pride, or anger, none of us can escape the sirens of our sinister sides.  Because we live in a broken world, we have to live with the sad fact that the sin of terrorism will continue to be “out there.”  But because we ourselves are broken people, we also have to live with the sad fact that we will continue to struggle with sin in us.  The apostle Paul is right when he writes, “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23).  Sin is real and is everywhere.

Righteousness is real.

We may struggle against sin, but we also yearn for righteousness.  We recoil in disgust against terrorism precisely because we know it’s wicked and we yearn for what is right.  But how do we know what is right and that terrorism is wrong?  Paul explains that, even if we do not know God, we know what is right and wrong because God has written righteousness on our hearts: “When [people], who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).  This is why, in the face of evil, we appeal to and press toward righteousness.

Justice is coming.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”  At a time when racism was rampant, Dr. King believed justice would ultimately triumph.  And although racism still spreads its ugly tentacles through our society, justice has been slowly but surely bludgeoning the evil of racism over the 54 years since Dr. King’s speech.  What is true of racism is also true of ISIS and other organizations like it.  The evil of ISIS is simply no match for the justice of God.  ISIS may delight in the death of the innocent, but a day will come when “there will be no more death” (Revelation 21:4), for “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54) through Christ.  Indeed, Christ has already defeated death by His resurrection.  And because of Christ’s resurrection, those who lose their lives in Him do not lose their lives forever.  Death, for them, is but a pause in the drumbeat of life.  Their resurrections are soon to come when Jesus comes.

So after a week when a terrorist did his worst, we can take comfort in the biblical promise of everlasting life.  To quote the poet and pastor John Donne:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

May 29, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Changing Racist Hearts

Credit:  AP / The Washington Post

Credit: AP / The Washington Post

It’s been a tough week for race relations in America. Saturday, March 7 began with a march, led by President Obama and Representative John Lewis, across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the day 600 voting rights demonstrators, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., crossed this same bridge and were met by state troopers who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. Indeed, Representative Lewis was among those seriously injured in that fateful march. Reflecting on the events of fifty years ago, the president noted:

In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.

And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so many others, the idea of a just America, and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed …

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.[1]

If only the president’s final line rang a truer longer.

The very next day, a video surfaced showing members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma singing a horrifyingly racist song on a bus. The University quickly denounced the video, suspended the fraternity from its campus, and expelled two of the students involved.

But then came this:

Attorneys and law professors have watched with interest this week as the University of Oklahoma moved swiftly to disband the school’s SAE chapter and expel two students on suspicion of leading the racist chant, which was captured on a now-viral video.

University President David Boren acted decisively in dismantling the chapter, but experts say the university may be on shaky legal ground.[2]

The issue at hand is whether or not the University of Oklahoma violated the students’ First Amendment rights by closing their fraternity and expelling two students simply because they sang a song that many find – and, I hasten to add, should find – offensive. As Terrence McCoy reports in an article for The Washington Post:

The expulsions immediately struck constitutional law experts such as professor Eugene Volokh, of the University of California at Los Angeles and the Volokh Conspiracy blog, as strange. Did the University of Oklahoma, a public institution, just punish speech that, while clearly abhorrent, was protected under the First Amendment? Was this a violation of the Constitution?

Private institutions – like Sigma Alpha Epsilon – can freely punish speech that breaches their codes or standards. But a public institution such as the University of Oklahoma, which takes public money, operates as an arm of the government under the law. “So, in effect, it’s not a university punishing a student for a racist video or social media post, it is the state itself acting against an individual – a person, importantly, with all the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment,” wrote the University of West Alabama’s Will Nevin on AL.com.[3]

This case is yet another example of how woefully inadequate civic laws can be to address the deeply moral aspects of the human condition and experience.

One the one hand, the First Amendment was put in place to serve an important common good – that of protecting this country’s citizens from being oppressed, even in their speech, by their government. This freedom is important and ought to be fiercely protected.  On the other hand, we must never forget that societal freedom is inevitably fraught with personal danger. Free speech, it turns out, does not always translate into right speech. Just because legally we can say almost anything doesn’t mean that morally we should.

An opinion piece by Byron Williams of The Huffington Post struck me as especially lucid in regard to this story’s moral entailments:

America’s approach to the original sin of racism maintains an aspect of arrested development. It is too easy to temporarily transfer our moral indignation toward a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma that no longer exists than it is to take the more difficult path that could lead to a meaningful transformation.[4]

Notice the explicitly theological and moral category Williams uses for racism: it’s America’s “original sin.” But notice also how Williams also offers a distinctly non-civic answer to his distinctly theological and moral framing of this problem:

The expelled students have already succeeded in dismantling their fraternity chapter. Shouldn’t they be given opportunity for redemption? In lieu of expulsion, could the university have found another way to educate all involved about the poisons of racism?

The ease with which one can easily sing a song for amusement that dehumanizes another cannot be eradicated by an expulsion that, in my view, is unconstitutional.

Because racism is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned.

Moreover, it could prove to be the most meaningful class the students involved ever take.

To answer what he refers to as an “original sin,” Williams proposes a path to “redemption.” Though he does not frame redemption in a particularly Christian way, his argument is nevertheless rich with not-so-subtle theological overtones and vocabulary. Racists, as Williams notes, “cannot be eradicated by an expulsion.” In other words, if we want to root out racism from society, racists will need something more than punitive measures. As Christians, we know that racists will need Jesus – even as all sinners need Jesus. And racists will need followers of Jesus who are willing both to stand up against them and to seek the transformation of them.

One student’s words on last Monday’s NBC Nightly News broadcast express my hope for the students of Sigma Alpha Epsilon: “I want this to be a rehabilitory time for them.”[5] I hope it is. Because although the First Amendment may be able to defend them legally, it’s only Jesus who can change them internally. And it’s only Jesus who can heal people left broken by these students’ words relationally. So let’s lift our eyes to that hope. After a week like this last one, it’s a hope that we need.

_________________________

[1] Chris Cillizza, “A single photo that tells the powerful story of the 50th anniversary of Selma,” The Washington Post (3.7.2015).

[2] Matt Pearce, “Is University of Oklahoma frat’s racist chant protected by 1st Amendment?Los Angeles Times (3.10.2015).

[3] Terrence McCoy, “Why expelled Oklahoma frat boys would have an ‘excellent chance’ in court,” The Washington Post (3.11.2015).

[4] Byron Williams, “It’s Not Unconstitutional to Be Racist,” The Huffington Post (3.11.2015).

[5] NBC Nightly News, Lester Holt reporting (3.9.2015).

March 16, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Minute Of Your Time

Super Bowl XLVIIHow much is a minute worth?  If you ask Volkswagen of America, it’s worth close to $10 million.  At least if it’s a minute during the Super Bowl.  In an article for USA Today, Bruce Horovitz writes about the high price – and high stakes – world of commercial advertising during the Super Bowl:

Few moments of public pressure compare to that of airing a Super Bowl commercial.  Not only will it be watched by more than 110 million consumers, the social-media buzz before, during and after the game can generate tens of millions of additional views.  Thirty-some advertisers – from veteran Anheuser-Busch InBev to newcomer SodaStream – will air 50-some commercials in Super Bowl airtime that cost them roughly $3.8 million per 30-second slot.  That’s a record average price for Super Bowl slots.

It’s the most expensive media money can buy.[1]

If you want 30 seconds, it’ll cost you $3.8 million.  60 seconds will cost you more than twice that.  Justin Osborne, general manager of marketing communications at VW, says of such an outlandish price, “If I put this in financial terms, it would give me hives.  I can’t look at the zeros.”

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Time is money.”  If you quoted Franklin’s axiomatic aphorism to a Super Bowl advertiser, I suspect he might respond with a hearty “Amen.”  Of course, these advertisers are hoping that time is not only money spent, but that it is money made.  This is why these advertisers are willing to pay such haranguingly hearty prices for airtime.  After all, with hundreds of millions of people expected to watch the big game, some of them are bound to put their money into the companies, products, and services they see in the commercials.  Right?

Macdonald Carey used to say during the opening sequence of the famed soap opera, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”  It’s true.  For the most part, our seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years slip past us with barely a notice – certainly not a Super-Bowl-sized-notice worthy of $10 million.  But perhaps the time that all too often slips by us is worth more than we realize.  For, as Scripture reminds us, time is a precious gift from God, not to be unthinkingly frittered away:  “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

The other day, I attended an excellent presentation by the former publisher for the LA Times.  As part of his presentation, he cited a poem by Benjamin Mays, mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and former president of Morehouse College:

I have only just a minute. Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me.  Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it.  Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute – But eternity is in it.

Every minute is precious.  Every minute is a gift from God.   How will you use yours?


[1] Bruce Horovitz, “Inside the making of VW’s Super Bowl ad,” USA Today (1.29.13).

February 4, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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